46 days to USC football: For Danny Reece it was hit and be hit

RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy) /

USC football produced many great defensive backs in the 1970s, including Danny Reece, who wore No. 46 and gathered unexpected acclaim as a punt returner.

BEST OF USC. Top 10 Trojan DBs

There are 46 days until USC football comes back to the Coliseum floor.

Fresno State awaits on August 32, but until then Reign of Troy is turning attention towards the past with a countdown looking at each Trojan jersey number.

No. 46 awaits:

Who wore it best?

The top No. 46 in USC history is dangerous return man and cornerback Danny Reece, one of the many great defensive backs produced by the Trojans in the 1970s.

While he started on USC’s 1973 squad, leading the team in interceptions, and was an all-conference first teamer during the Trojans’ national championship run in 1974, Reece’s greatest claim to fame came on special teams.

Reece had returned punts in high school, but he sat behind Lynn Swann and then Marvin Cobb in the pecking order for that job as his college career progressed. Then in 1975, coaches were looking for something different from the return game and in Week 3 against Purdue they put Reece back deep.

In the third quarter, he took a kick and returned it 47 yards to the 12-yard line to set up a USC score. A few minutes later he was set loose again, breaking three tackles on his way to the Purdue goal line, where he was stopped just short of a touchdown. The Trojans punched it in to make his efforts worth it.

All in all, Reece returned four punts for 150 yards, just 13 yards away from Mike Garrett’s single-game punt return record in the Pac-8.

It was the start of a run which would see Reece lead the conference with 409 yards on 26 punt returns.

“He bursts almost kamikaze-style into hordes of tacklers rather than trying to be fancy,” Jeff Prugh of the Los Angeles Times explained in 1975.

Reece learned that approach from All-American running back Ricky Bell, who told him that you have to “learn to hit people before you can be hit yourself.”

Since Reece was so good at dishing it out on defense, it was a natural thing for him to take it as well.

“I don’t think there’s a harder hitter in the country,” John McKay said.

It’s a good thing Reece was able to establish himself in that role as his ability to flash at cornerback was sabotaged by his own elite ability.

After intercepting 14 passes in his first two years as a starter, he ended his career with 18 total, two picks short of Artimus Parker’s Trojan career record of 20.

“[Returning punts] is the only time I have now to handle the football,” Reece said in the Associated Press. “They don’t throw in my direction much anymore.”

That may be the reason Reece was never recognized as an All-American, though he picked up his second all-conference nod in 1975.

Harry Missildine of the Spokesman-Review in Washington called Reece’s lack of recognition on any of the AP All-American teams “a notable lapse.”

Who wears it now?

Special teamers Reid Budrovich and Wyatt Schmidt wore No. 46 most recently, but the jersey is now in the hands of walk-on linebacker Grant Jones, a redshirt junior out of De La Salle.

Stats to know: 46

  • O.J. Simpson was USC’s 46th ever All-American in 1967, the year before he won the Heisman Trophy.
  • All-American defensive tackle Mike Patterson finished his career with 46 tackles for loss from 2001 to 2004.
  • Adoree’ Jackson didn’t get his first interception until his sophomore campaign, but he made the wait worth it when he snatched a pass away against Cal and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
  • Jackson ranks fifth on USC’s all-time punt return list with 46 career returns for 578 yards and four touchdowns. Joey Browner also handled 46 kicks for 409 yards to rank 15th.

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